If you live in a suburb or rural area, chances are, you’ve got a shed. It can be a great place to store tools, serve as a workshop, or even an activity space. When first designing the interior of a shed for any purpose, however, a common thread will likely run through whatever problems you may face. You need power.
Without electricity, you’ll find that it’s rather hard to get anything done in your shed. Whether that’s finding the right tool, completing a woodshop project, or entertaining a guest, without a power source , you might be having a hard time. Do you really want to fumble with a flashlight every time you need to do something in your shed? Even if you were willing this would only apply to those who use their shed as storage. Anyone who wants a deeper use of their home-outside-their-home needs power.
There are three different ways to run power to your shed.
- An extension cord is useful if you only need minor power to your shed, like a light or two
- Running a circuit from the house with outdoor electrical wires is the best option if you need a good deal of power to your shed, but it will be used infrequently
- Installing solar panels is the the uncontested superior choice if your shed represents a large, frequent power draw on your home
Depending on what purpose you tailor your shed to serve, you may stand to benefit more from one strategy or another to get power to your shed. Let’s take a look at each method above more in detail, what situations call for each method, and how to do them right.
Run an Extension Cord
This is the simplest, quickest solution to your shed-power issue. It should also only be used to conquer the simplest challenges. This option should appeal to you only if you need very little power diverted to your shed. This option is most geared towards the homeowners who use their sheds mostly as storage, or a very basic workshop with one or two plug-in tools at most.
Running an extension cord to your shed from your house is perfect if you just need a light. As mentioned above, very light tool use will be alright here as well. That means a plug-in drill, maybe a sander. Don’t use both at the same time, and don’t try to use tools with a higher demand, like a table saw, or you may just blow a fuse in the house.
Buying an outdoor-rated extension cord and plugging it in might sound simple, but there are still challenges to consider. Firstly, yes, you do actually need an outdoor extension cord. They’re more expensive for good reason.
Tripping hazards should not be underestimated, either. Running an extension cord to your shed is the only option listed in this article that leaves a cord exposed. Always run your cord along the edges of your home and shed, whenever possible, minimizing the chance for injury.
This method will take you as long as a trip to a hardware store, plus a few minutes to secure the plugs on both ends of your cord.
Run a Circuit from Your Home
This option is best suited for those who need more power in their shed, but only a few days a week. This can be done, carefully, with a little DIY knowhow, and knowledge of compliance laws and codes for your local area. It would be wise to confer with a contractor or electrician before starting a project on shed wiring.
The first step here is to purchase a subpanel from a hardware store. You will notice it looks similar to the main power panel in your home. Essentially, this will be the power panel for your shed, supplied electricity by the main panel of your house. Once you have a subpanel you like, install it in a sturdy wall in your shed, preferably lining up the screws with studs for maximum security hold.
The next thing you’ll need to do is go to the main power panel for your home. You will need to coordinate with your power utility provider to turn off power to your house. Even if you flip off the main breaker, power is still coming in to the panel, in lethal voltages. Make sure your power utility provider has cut power to your main panel, then flip the main breaker OFF for good measure.
You will have to remove the safety panel to access the wires inside, which run to all of the outlets in your home. This is where you will start the new line that runs to your shed. You can work from either end of this new circuit, the subpanel you installed, or the main power panel. You will basically be repeating the same wire configurations in each.
You will find these wires inside a ROMEX cable, which a specialist can help you find at your local hardware store. You will need a cable that houses 4 individual 14 gauge (thickness), insulated wires inside. The color of insulation around your wire indicates what type it is, and where you will attach it inside your main and sub panels. Strip the ends of your wires of 1/2 an inch of insulation (cut away just the insulation, leaving only 1/2 inch of copper wire exposed).
General rules to remember are that wires are organized into types inside your power panels by bus bars. These bars have screws that you must loosen with the appropriate screw driver. This opens a gap where you put the exposed copper ends of a wire. You then re-tighten the screw to clamp the wire tightly into the bus bar.
Here is a guide to knowing which wire goes in which bus bar.
The white wires is neutral: they attach to your neutral bus bar.
Red and black wires are hot: they attach to your hot bus bars. These are the metal pieces that connect to the terminals your breakers attach to.
The green wire is ground: consult the manufacturer of your main power panel or an electrician to determine where the ground wires connect in your main panel, as it varies from one design to the next.
Before you can proceed comes a very important step in complying with the National Electric Code. You cannot leave an exposed wire running from your house to your shed. You must dig a trench to bury the wire. You will also have to cut a vent of some kind to run this wire from your home to the outside, and likewise from the outside of your shed into the subpanel, but that is more an architectural situation for another article.
In terms of the trench you dig, you will need a non-metal conduit, or a safe covering for your wire. PVC piping works well. A wire must be buried a minimum of eighteen inches, in accordance with the previously mentioned NEC, to avoid damage from maintenance digging.
Once your wire reaches your shed, you just have to get it through that wall somehow, and repeat the wiring scheme earlier for your subpanel. Add some 15 or 20 amp breakers (depending on how high demand your appliances put on your electricity), and you will be ready to wire the rest of your outlets.
For these, you’ll need 3 wire ROMEX, in the same 14 gauge size. Run a length of ROMEX from your subpanel to each outlet, which will have terminals or terminal screws for your hot (black) wire, neutral (white) wire, and ground (green or bare copper). Obviously you will want to hide these cables in the wall or at least a conduit. At the subpanel end, these wires will connect to their respective bus bars, with the exception of your hot wires. The hot wires will connect to the breakers you install in your subpanel. These act as a bridge between your hot bus bar and the wires, to avoid damage from surges or overdraws. You should notice there’s no way to connect the hot wires without breakers!
When everything is safely set up, secured, and advisably observed by a licensed electrician, you’re safe to call your power company and have them turn the home back on. Flip your main breaker back on, and your shed should have power whenever you need it!
Between gathering materials, research, and the actual work, this method will probably take several days.
Install Solar Power for your Shed
Running a circuit to your shed is great, but if you plan to put a high demand on your subpanel on a regular basis, solar power is the way to go. The investment will pay for itself in electrical savings in a year.
Many of the steps for this method mirror those in the house-circuit option above. The wiring scheme for getting power from your subpanel to your outlets is the same. The difference is where that power comes from. Whereas the previous option had electricity supplied by the main panel of the home, this power will come from solar collection cells on top of the shed.
To the uninitiated, this may come as a surprise, but running power to a shed from a solar system takes more than just the panels. This is only where the wonder of solar collection begins. From the solar cells, the energy from multiple panels must join together into only two wires, one positive, one negative. This is done in a conjunction box, which doubles as a way to get the wires inside the shed.
From the conjunction box, your wires will run through a charge controller, which ensures you don’t overwhelm your batteries. The charge controller feeds into an inverter, which changes the energy from 120V, which is what your outlets use, to 12v, which is what your battery bank (which you will need) can store. Your batteries will then need to be wired to your inverter with 3 or 4 wire ROMEX, and your inverter to your subpanel, in a similar way to what is described above.
Luckily for homeowners who want to improve their sheds, many of these components come in package deals, to make installation much easier and cost effective to install.
1. Nature Solar Panel Kit, 110 Watts – Cost Effective Option
This option offers the simplest, most cost-effective solution to a lighter, but frequently used shed. A single solar panel eliminates the need for a conjunction box, but the inverter can only handle 300w of power.
2. RICH SOLAR 200 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar Kit – A Well-Rounded Package
This package is a great value on decent power output for your shed. It also comes with pre-prepared wire harness and mounting equipment for ease of installation. The only downside to this offer is the lack of an inverter, though the amount of solar panels and the charge controller, with cables and mounting equipment, is still a great deal.
3. WindyNation SOK-400WPI-15 Complete 400 Watt Solar Panel Kit – Everything Included
This solar shed kit does it all. In includes the high-output panels, a charge controller, and a great inverter. This is the package that gives you the most of what you might want from a solar system for your shed.